Queensland floods – day 22

Victoria has now been hit. ‎43 Victorian towns have now been flooded, affecting more than 1400 properties. These are the biggest floods in decades and in some areas are the largest ever recorded. My Victorian colleagues scramble to respond. Luckily their State EOC was already up and running, assisting with the Queensland floods by running the National Inquiry Centre, a call-centre for people trying to find their loved ones. It’s still hard to hit the ground running in the middle of the night.

First task in the morning is a pharmacy run. Half of us realise this morning that we are a bit dehydrated, so I stock up on Hydralyte and other girlie items for the rest of the ladies. I stand over a few of them to make sure they drink their electrolytes, and drink four glasses myself before noon.

The rest of Park Road is alive at last, and people cheer as they realise that “real” coffee is available for the first time in a week. Sally runs over to Mary Ryan’s bookshop all excited, only to find out they have nothing but soy milk for now. Undeterred, she runs back across the road to the Red Cross fridge and liberates a couple of litres of fresh milk. Last I see her, she is striding purposefully back to the shop, clutching her carton. Wonder what they charge when it’s BYO milk?

Monday morning in the office sees the full National Emergency Services gang back together for the first time in three weeks. Between holidays and illness, we’ve been down two people since Christmas. It’s a relief to feel back to full strength, and our first teleconference is full of ideas and strategies.

I slip into handover mode. Kirstie is running the National Coordination Centre like a dream, with Shin Yee making her National Logistics Officer role look easy, and Bev’s calmness making her perfect in the National Planning Officer role.  Sally and I have been a fantastic double-act in the National Manager role in the past weeks. As always I can see her looking at my progress on things through her lens, seeing issues and options I would never have thought of, and finding a path to build on what we have both contributed. We trust each other implicitly.

The last hours before handover, as always, are a bit frantic, as I remember things and forget things in the one breath. I realise how exhausted I am when I brief two separate people about exactly the same thing within an hour, and have no recollection of the first briefing. I lose my handbag three times in the building. I stop mid-sentence and have no idea what I was about to say. My shift log becomes even more important and I write everything down.

Knowing there are great people taking over from you should (and does) give you a great deal of comfort, but it’s the pace of things that raise the anxiety levels again. Things change right around the country almost every hour. It’s selfish, but I know that within two hours of me leaving the building, the situation will have changed so much that I will be completely out of the loop.  We train for this and we know this, and it’s why we have a tight incident control system in place. But personally it makes the separation anxiety a little worse, especially on the first of my days off.

Some familiar faces from my Emerald stint arrive back in from their second deployment. Many of them have been out working in some of the most devastated parts of the Lockyer Valley, where the destruction and deaths were are their highest. They look exhausted,and they will have seen and heard many dreadful things in past days, but every one of them cannot say enough about the spirit and determination of the people they have been assisting. These are the people we have been working to support, back here in our air-conditioned office. This is the reason I love my job.

Somehow I find time to take a breath and finish off the last of my handover bits. I pack up and wander around the building saying goodbye to a few people. Later, a rare and brief evening of relaxation with two colleagues sees us dining alfresco in Chinatown, lanterns swaying above us, alternating between work stuff and good conversation. Anna and I have made a good team: why wouldn’t we? We are both Scorpio Fire Horses, born three days apart. Almost twins, but very different personalities. Her calmness and ability to boil things right down to what can work quickly has been fantastic, and her fresh view on things has been so helpful.

This morning I awake at my usual 5.30 slot but happily snuggle back down and sleep for another hour and a half. Before I head for the airport I shall go out for a nice stroll around Roma Street Parklands across the road. It’s hard to get away from Red Cross in this town: this lovely city park is where our International shelter delegates do their practical exercises during training, using standard-issue tarpaulins and little else to build a temporary home for a family of five. I shall avoid that part of the park today, and go smell the flowers instead.

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